Barbara’s Unexpected Death

Expat Mojo

How does the death of an acquaintance affect you? That’s the issue I’m currently having trouble with – the sudden, unexpected death of someone I was looking forward to getting to know better.


I’m not talking about the death of a friend. But not a casual acquaintance either. Someone who fits somewhere in between those extremes. Someone you thought would probably turn into a good friend when circumstances changed.

If you were in this situation, would you go through the same five stages of grieving – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance? Should I be doing that? I don’t feel like I’m actually grieving, but maybe I’m just in denial, the first stage. And maybe the other four stages will descend on me soon enough.

We didn’t know each other well for very long. We’d been introduced to each other a few times over the years but had only started to become friends recently when she moved into the house next door to mine.

At that point, my expectation was that a real friendship would surely evolve since we had a lot in common.

  • I’m an American woman who’s lived in Indonesia more than 30 years. She was an American woman who’d lived in Indonesia more than 40 years.
  • She was seven years younger than me but still the same generation, so we had similar points of cultural reference.
  • We’d both been married to Indonesians. I’m divorced, but her marriage was intact.
  • I’d already retired from a job outside the home and was working online. She’d planned to retire within a year. I’d looked forward to her retirement when a real friendship would surely evolve.

Besides those similar experiences that provided a solid base for a close bond, we had many interests in common that would give us fodder for long conversations over leisurely lunches.

Expat Mojo

Since her death, many thoughts have been flying around my mind. I recognize that the pain of someone’s death is only felt by those who are left behind, so I feel somewhat guilty that my only suffering is the loss of the friendship that hadn’t even developed yet. That seems utterly selfish to me. Where is the pain that would seem normal with the death of a friend or acquaintance? Will that come later?

During the on and off, unexpected and unexplained illness that she had during the last month of her life, I observed a person that wasn’t really very nice. I forced myself to cut her some slack because she was in serious physical pain. And I asked myself if I were in that kind of pain, would I be as rude as she was to everyone around her?

Why do all my concerns focus on me? Is that another sign of my selfishness?

We didn’t know the same people, so I can’t discuss her death with anyone who knew both of us. Talking with my friends about her death and my reaction to it were obviously through my own perspective – through my own lens. I have done that, but it didn’t help me understand my emotions – or lack of emotions.

About 30 hours after she died, I came down with a raging cold. I hadn’t been sick for over three years, so I guess it was time. But is it possible that her death affected me so much that my immune system couldn’t fend off the germs or viruses that are always waiting for a vulnerable subject?

Maybe the timing was just coincidence, and I’m giving it too much importance. I’ll never know. And I’ll never know whether my expectations of friendship with her would have been fulfilled.

Previously published on Medium.

Expat Mojo
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HELEN PAGE - September 11, 2018 Reply

Beautiful and honest account of a very human experience. In my experience with grief, having lost more people than I care to count, it has its own path. The emphasis is on you because you are the one experiencing this loss, the person and the possible friendship. There’s no right or wrong way to feel. It sounds as though you were willing to give the potential friendship every chance. I’m sorry you missed the chance to find out.

    Kate Benzin - September 13, 2018 Reply

    Thanks, Helen, for your thoughtful response. Because Barbara’s death was so unexpected and she was 7 years younger than me, I’ve now been thinking a lot about my own health and mortality. Got my juicer out and juiced a bunch of vegetables and apples. Will I be able to get myself to drink it?

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